It’s been nearly two years since The Ultimate Fighter’s most recent season, which aired in late 2018 on FS1, leaving many mixed martial arts fans wondering when they might see their favorite reality TV series again. Now we know, as UFC has announced the show will return in March 2021 and air exclusively on ESPN+.
— UFC News (@UFCNews) November 1, 2020
The previous season of the reality competition focused on “heavy hitters” and they’re keeping a niche focus for the 29th incarnation of the program as well, featuring competitors in the men’s bantamweight (135 lbs.) and middleweight (185 lbs.) divisions.
Casting is currently open and team coaches have yet to be decided. Per the UFC release, all casting will be done remotely, making it the first time that physical tryouts will not be part of the process. Finalists are expected to be picked by the end of November. Per the application posted on their site, UFC is requiring all contestants to be U.S. citizens between 21 and 34 who have a winning record with a minimum of three professional MMA fights.
As part of the announcement, UFC also noted that ESPN+ will be a new home for all 28 previous seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, though the timing on that remains TBD.
The series, which was initially broadcast on Spike TV in 2005 before moving to various Fox networks starting in 2012, has helped produced some of the biggest names in UFC’s recent history, including Rashad Evans, Michael Bisping, Nate Diaz, and Forrest Griffin. It’s also acted as a showcase for some of the established fighters that UFC wants to raise the profile of, either as guests or as coaches. Ratings declined as seasons went on and the show kept getting pushed to more niche cable audiences.
According to MMA Fighting, UFC President Dana White reportedly offered the coaching roles to lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor. However, when McGregor went publicly with some grievances about the amount of activity he was getting from the organization, that offer was pulled.